anonymous copyright infringement

On November 28, 2017, the Sixth Circuit, in a 2:1 decision, ruled on the anonymous copyright infringement case we discussed back in April. The central issue in the case involved whether an adjudicated copyright infringer can remain anonymous. A decision in favor of the infringer could encourage anonymous unlawful speech. A decision in favor of the judgment plaintiff could encourage suits designed only to “out” the name of an anonymous critic.

In a case of first impression, the Sixth Circuit didn’t make a final decision. See Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe, No. 16-2188, 2017 WL 5710571 (6th Cir. Nov. 28, 2017).

The Court remanded the case back to the district court to balance the infringer’s anonymity interest against both the judgment plaintiff’s interest in unmasking the infringer and the public’s interest in open judicial proceedings, with a presumption in favor of disclosure of the infringer. In short, the Court held that the infringer’s anonymity was not automatically lost upon his defeat in the litigation … at least under these circumstances.
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Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit heard an anonymous copyright infringement case of first impression. See Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe, No. 16-2188 (6th Cir.). The issue: whether an adjudicated copyright infringer can remain anonymous.

The infringer said he can.

“John Doe” appeared in the case through counsel and defended against Signature’s infringement claim. He lost. But he maintained his right to anonymity under the First Amendment. According to Doe, a court should balance a defendant’s right to remain anonymous against a plaintiff’s need for the defendant’s identity at all stages of litigation, including post-judgment. And here, as the lower court held, Signature prevailed but it didn’t need Doe’s identity where no damages were sought and Doe agreed to cease the infringement.
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